Cucumber Time

by Erik Voeten on August 9, 2013 · 6 comments

in Frivolity

In Dutch the word “komkommertijd” (“cucumber time”) is used to describe the period when newspapers put stories about goats on the Congressional cemetery on the front page because politicians are on vacation. In the UK they call this “silly season” whereas in the U.S. (according to the almighty Wikipedia) “slow news season” is the accurate but dreadfully boring description of the phenomenon.

Much to my surprise, the likely origins of the term “komkommertijd” are English (although another plausible theory is that it has Yiddish origins). An English dictionary already included the term in 1699:

Cucumber-time, Taylers Holiday, when they have leave to Play, and Cucumbers are in season.

When the cucumbers were in season the gentry left town for the countryside and business was slow for tailors. Peculiarly, translations of the term appear in many languagesSauregurkenzeit (German), agurktid (Norwegian),  uborkaszezon , Okurková sezóna (Czech), Sezon ogórkowy (Polish), and Onat Ha’melafefonim (Hebrew). I can’t speak for all the languages, but in German it has the same meaning as in Dutch.

I think “cucumber time” should make a comeback in the English language. It’s a beautiful term that can be used to describe slow business days of any kind. Its origins are wonderfully obscure but there is a legacy that protects the term from being overly frivolous. Let’s relegate “slow news season” to the dustbin of history and restore “cucumber time” to its rightful place.

{ 6 comments }

John Griffin August 9, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Love this post!

Scott Monje August 9, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Vrolijke komkommertijd!

Chaz August 9, 2013 at 5:23 pm

It sounds cool but it’s hopelessly nonviable. For a term to take off people have to be able to understand it without too much help. No one knows when the heck cucumbers are in season anymore. Stuff’s in the grocery store year round, and hardly anyone eats fresh cucumbers anyway. I tried to buy one once and all the supermarket had was a cellophane wrapped one for five (US) dollars.

Jack August 9, 2013 at 5:42 pm

@Chaz

Still, verbal whimsy has been making astounding leaps and bounds in commonality of usage recently in the English language. This can be readily seen in modern music and entertainment services. It adds a flair of informality that appeals to a large audience. I think that there is a large contingent of people who would readily pick up the silly phrase, if for nothing else the pretense of it.

REM August 10, 2013 at 7:40 am

For the record, the German and Norwegian terms are direct translations. What would be nice is if the press limited their silly season stories to just this month.

Øystein August 12, 2013 at 3:00 pm

In both Norwegian and Danish the expression has the same meaning as you describe.

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